Conservation, Biodiversity and International Law

Conservation, Biodiversity and International Law

New Horizons in Environmental and Energy Law series

Alexander Gillespie

This important and timely book provides a rigorous overview of the defining issues presently facing conservation at international level. The author provides detailed coverage of topics ranging from the classification of species right through to access and benefit sharing, drawing on his personal experience at intergovernmental level. Each question is examined through the prism of dozens of treaties and hundreds of decisions and resolutions of the key multilateral regimes, and the law in each area is supplemented by the necessary considerations of science, politics and philosophy – providing much-needed context for the reader.

Chapter 6: Intangible Considerations

Alexander Gillespie

Subjects: environment, environmental law, law - academic, environmental law, public international law


1. INTRODUCTION This chapter is concerned with the ethical relationships between humanity and biodiversity and their reflection in law, both in terms of individual species and the areas that the species inhabit. The ethical relationships in this chapter are not of the direct selfinterested benefits which were highlighted in Chapter 5. The ethical view of this chapter relates to where humanity acts beyond the most obvious forms of direct self-interest. At a higher international level, the United Nations General Assembly is trying to foster developments in this area, calling for humanity to ‘live in harmony with nature’1 and the creation of ‘International Mother Earth Day’.2 However, at a more practical level, such exhortations do little to change the way that countries view their intangible ethical considerations with either species or areas. At the practical level, these considerations are dealt with via specific (and ongoing) treaties and/or international gatherings where particular conclusions are reached. These conclusions relate to either the ethics of species or the ethics of areas. 2. THE ETHICS OF SPECIES It is a common philosophical position that the lives of all of nature’s self-replicating species, irrespective of considerations of sentience, are inherently valuable and therefore worthy of ethical consideration. Albert Schweitzer (1875–1965) is usually credited with the advocacy of this life-oriented approach. His basic rule was that ‘it is good to maintain and promote life; it is bad to destroy life or obstruct it’. He added: A man is truly ethical only when he obeys the compulsion...

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